Paleontologist wants to Create a Living Dinosaur

Someday families might stroll past the giraffes and lions at the zoo and then halt, gaping up at a warning sign dominating a huge enclosure that reads: “Please, do not feed the Velociraptor.”

At least those families will if paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner has his way.

The dinosaurs are back…almost

Dr. Jack Horner, a professor at Montana State University, once dreamed of bringing back a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Now he’s scaled that goal back a bit and wants to create a Velociraptor-sized dinosaur. Velociraptors, as depicted in the motion picture film “Jurassic Park,” were the most intelligent, deadly and fleetest of dinosaurs. In the film they were the crafty ones that sometimes outsmarted their human prey. And Horner should know, he acted as a technical adviser for the film.

The creatures are also thought to be vicious and driven by an insatiable blood lust for fresh flesh.

But scientists looking to resurrect extinct animals—like the teams working on bringing back the Woolly Mammoth, or others seeking ways to bring back a living Neanderthal Man, or Dr. Horner who wants to recreate the dinosaurs—aren’t concerned. Any creatures that might hunt, kill and eat humans can just be contained in a high-security environment, they say.

Wait a second…wasn’t that the scenario underlying the “Jurrassic Park” movies?


The man behind the plan

Horner is a certified genius. Like Bill Gates he never graduated from college. He didn’t need to waste his time at some Ivy League institution. During 1986 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—also known informally as a “genius grant.” That same year he received an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Montana.

Now, with teams of serious scientists in Japan racing to be the first to make the mammoth walk the earth again, and genetic researchers in Russia and the United States seeking candidates for their own special efforts to resurrect the dead and gone, Horner has taken note.

Once extinct animals living and breathing again promises to be very big business in the not-too-distant future. Some of the biggest, best financed zoos around the globe have already indicated interest in having their own baby mammoths on display.

But as every schoolboy knows, dinosaurs trump mammoths any day.

And as far as dinosaurs go—and bringing them back—Horner is a schoolboy at heart. That’s not meant in any derogatory way, but as a recognition of imagination, enthusiasm, and a welcoming of the unknown that too many adults somehow seem to lose between their transition from childhood to adulthood.

Some, like Horner, never lose it. In a way, many of those that somehow keep the wonder and excitement and imagination in their hearts are the foundation that often moves the human race ahead into a better future.

Experts in the field have praised Horner as one of the smartest paleontologists in America. The scientist has made one major discovery after another.

Back in the 1970s Horner had his first amazing discovery: he dug up the first dinosaur eggs with embryos ever found in the West. That milestone was followed with the discovery of nesting grounds of a North American hadrosaur—the first such find in the world. Working with colleague Bob Makela in Montana, the two gave science its first look at dinosaur parenting habits.

Evolution of the ‘Chickosaurus’

Now the paleontological man with a plan is seeking an assistant, a partner really, who can help him with the genome of a chicken. It’s recently been discovered that the embryo of a chicken goes through stages very similar to dinosaur physiology before fully developing into something that lays edible eggs or ends up at the neighborhood KFC.

“Birds are descendants of dinosaurs,” Horner told during a 2009 interview. “They carry their DNA. So in its early stages, a chicken embryo will develop dinosaur traits like a long tail, teeth and three-fingered hands. If you can find the genes that cancel the tail and fuse the fingers to build a wing—and turn those genes off—you can grow animals with dinosaur characteristics.”

Professor of geology Frank Ettensohn of the University of Kentucky says of Horner, “In science, somebody has to think big and out of the box, and that’s him.”

The charismatic Horner’s amazing breakthroughs have inspired a new generation of scientists in different disciplines to follow his lead.

One such scientist is Hans Larsson who’s leading the merging sciences of paleontology and molecular biology. Larsson seeks to resurrect dinosaurs using the method Horner has pioneered. The McGill University professor is enthusiastic about the work and believes that one day he will be walking small dinosaurs on leashes.

Recently Larsson made a momentous discovery that thrilled Horner. As reported by, Larsson’s recent experimental work into the 150 million year evolution of dinosaur tails into vastly shortened birds’ tails revealed 16 distinct vertebrae in a two-day-old chicken embryo. That number corresponds with the number in a reptilian tail, something every other researcher had missed for more than a century.

It also means that Horner’s dream of resurrecting dinosaurs-whether they be Velociraptors or the fiercesome T-Rex is one step closer to reality.

And when the day arrives that baby dinosaurs begin hatching from genetically modified eggs, Horner and Larsson better have some strong leashes handy.